West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Volume 77, Number 14 | September 5 - 11, 2007

A special Villager supplement.
Back to School

Spiraling cost of supplies nowadays really adds up

By Angela Benfield

It’s the start of a new school year, and anyone who has a child in school knows what that has meant: Dusting off that MasterCard — and going shopping.

“Mom, I need new shoes for the first day of school,” said my 10-year-old son.

“I just bought you new sneakers last week.”

“But they weren’t meant for the first day of school. I want ‘first day of school’ shoes.”

He wanted a pair of Vans. These are the ugly slip-on sneakers from the ’80s that used to cost $5. I’m not sure when — or why — they came back in style, but their cost has more than sextupled since then. At least they come in an array of colors and patterns now.

My daughter wanted me to take her shopping for clothes. She’s 14, so it’s developmentally appropriate. I took her to Abercrombie & Fitch because that’s where she asked to go. She picked out a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. I’m no math whiz, but I immediately calculated the total cost to closely approximate my monthly rent payment.

Can someone please tell me whatever happened to a pair of good old Levi’s and a K-Mart T?

“K-Mart sucks, Mom,” she informed me. I’ve heard that somewhere before.

I don’t know how my children got so spoiled, but I am not taking the blame. I think it has something to do with their friends.

“Bryan got a Wii!”

“Adele’s dad has a boat!”

“Louis went to Italy for the weekend!”

“Sadie’s mother has a house in the Hamptons! It sleeps 14!”

I just can’t compete.

“Mom, are we poor?” my son asked.

“Yes, we are poor,” I shot back. “We used to be rich, but I used all our money to buy school supplies.”

I cannot believe what public schools these days expect parents to purchase. Between my two children, I am required to buy:

16 Marble Composition notebooks
6 loose-leaf binders
26 dividers
5 packs of Post-It notes
2 rulers
2 calculators
2 reams of graph paper
14 pens
24 pencils
4 erasers
2 sets of markers
2 sets of colored pencils
4 packs of loose-leaf paper (wide-ruled only)
2 sets of Sharpies
12 two-pocket folders
4 decks of index cards

And this list doesn’t even include the “Community Items” that teachers respectfully demand from parents: rolls of paper towels, boxes of Kleenex, reams of typing paper, sponges, band-aids. … You’d think we live in a tax-free haven. I don’t remember my mother ever sending me to school with hamster food or liquid soap. The occasional apple was all that was required.

When I went to school, I had one three-ring binder and one pencil. That was it. The teacher didn’t care what color notebook you had or if you used loose-leaf paper or paper you tore out of a notebook. Imagine — our graph paper was supplied by the school!

“It’s a Staples conspiracy,” claimed my friend Mary. “I’ll bet the school board goes long on Staples stock right before Labor Day.”

Then I spoke to another friend, whose wife is a teacher.

“She has to go to Kinko’s to make copies of tests because her school runs out of paper or the copy machine is broken for weeks at a time. It’s amazing,” he told me.

“She teaches in an area of Brooklyn that is mostly lower income,” he added. I felt guilty for complaining, but just a little. At least my children go to schools where the teachers can rely on the parents for help.

“Mom, my Razr is so day-before-yesterday. Can I get a new cell phone?” my daughter asked.

“Sure,” I replied chipper as I could be while trying to keep my eyes from rolling upward. “How about if this year you spend your allowance on school supplies — and I’ll buy you the hottest, most gadget-laden new phone out on the market.”

Now, that’s a deal where I come out on top.

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